Back to the Mac

My wife will tell you that I love interfaces. (She’ll roll her eyes while she says it, but she’ll say it). Given that it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve been devouring media about OS X Lion since the beta release. I’m talking frequent Google searches (filtered to blogs within the past 24 hours), rereads of AppleInsider’s excellent in-depth reports, and, shame of shames, several hours worth of watching terribly produced YouTube screencasts.[1]

What I’ve come to realize from all this “research” is that the “Back to the Mac” concept – bringing ideas and features of iOS to the Mac – that Apple revealed at WWDC is much wiser than it initially seemed.

I think the main thing everyone got out of the presentation at the time was “Oh, great, now my Mac is going to have a grid of icons instead of a desktop.” It seemed like Apple was intending to replicate the least liked parts of iOS or at least migrate the pieces that actually fit worst into the Mac paradigm. This impression led many people to think that future Macs might come with touch screens, a locked down App Store as the exclusive channel for software, and sandboxed apps.

Instead Apple is taking features that most people don’t even really think about as unique iOS features (though they are); features like seamless app resuming, app “multitasking” with full screen apps, invisible scroll bars, easy application launching, automatic saving, OS state restoration, and physics-based scrolling.

These are all improvements to OS X, some more meaningful than others, but all worthwhile. The common thread through them is allowing the user to think less – getting closer to the old tagline, “It just works.” With application resuming and auto-saving you don’t have to worry near as much about application crashes or restarts. With OS state restoration you can apply software updates that require restarting the computer without going through an hour long prep-for-shutdown process. With the spaces-based “multitasking” of full screen apps you can focus on one task when necessary but easily get back to the desktop (and your other applications) at any time. With invisible scroll bars that only show up when needed you maintain all the functionality of the current scroll bars but with less visual clutter.[2] And with Launchpad, the iOS-like application launcher, Apple has abstracted applications away from the file system.[3]

Apple didn’t go for the obvious features that define the iPad and iOS, the ones everyone thinks of first (like being touch-based), but instead they took everything they learned about making a computer even easier to use and applied those lessons to OS X.

Lion may not work like the iPad, but it feels like the iPad.

  1. Seriously, if you’re going to make a screencast, maybe you should actually show interesting stuff on the screen rather than telling me what you could show me while showing me the desktop for 10 minutes. ↩︎

  2. As a web developer I love that these new scroll bars overlay the content such that the width of the content window is the same regardless of the need for scrolling. ↩︎

  3. At my all-Mac company I have seen many, many OS X users that are completely unaware that the Applications folder even exists. Here’s something to think about: Launchpad combined with the dock and the desktop mean that a user could theoretically never use the Finder. ↩︎